Top of the lake
Where endless flowering plants and shrubs meet the soothing waters of a manmade lake, a gardener realises his vision of a landscape that is interesting all year round.
A breathtaking, flower-filled garden by a manmade lake in Nelson.
It’s tempting to liken the design of Michael Edwardes’ Moutere Valley garden to the work of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. The well-known 18th century English landscape architect was renowned for his fondness for moving hills and making lakes and rivers to form naturalistic landscapes in the country estates of the landed gentry. But while a lake was indeed created to form the centrepiece of Quails Crossing, Michael’s two-hectare garden northwest of Nelson, there the resemblance ends.
There were few plants other than trees in Capability Brown’s landscapes while Michael’s garden is filled with a diverse abundance of plants from towering redwoods, oaks and liquidambars to swathes of daffodils, irises and hostas. Maples, hundreds of rhododendron and even more bluebells create a delightful woodland atmosphere underneath the canopy of tall trees while meandering paths, pretty wooden arbours, arches and bridges add structural interest.
It’s a different place to the unwanted swampy paddock with a few flaxes growing in where he started the garden 26 years ago. “It was all on an impulse really,” he explains. “The land was flat, boggy in winter and rock hard in summer.
“My brother had bought it, and I bought the two hectares from him. We basically started from very bare land that none of the local farmers wanted because it was so wet and boggy. We had no money, we did it all on a shoestring.
“Lance built the lake. He is an engineer and he surveyed it all and worked out how much soil we had to remove and the size of the banks necessary for the lake. The gorse and rubbishy growth was head high. As we cleared, we made piles of the rubbish and put the soil we took out for the lake over the rubbish to form contours and changes of level.”
If creating a large garden from scratch wasn’t a big enough challenge for Michael, he also had to renovate his house – an old classroom that he had moved from Nelson to the site. “It was a major thing, it was in a shocking state,” he recalls. “Hours and hours of work, scraping windows with a blow torch, painting all hours of the night.”
Getting the relationship between the house and garden right was important, and Michael felt an informal garden would suit the house best.
The large trees were the first plants to go in. Many did not cope with the heavy clay soil, but the tougher species such as silver birch, liquidambar and pin oaks survived and now form a leafy canopy around the shores of the lake, protecting the many shrubs, bulbs and perennials planted below.
“Although the soil is mostly heavy clay, once you get things going, it improves. I found maples did very well